LOCATION: 17th Judicial Circuit Green County Alabama Jury Commission
DOCKET NO.: 413
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1969-1970)
CITATION: 398 US 6 (1970)
ARGUED: Feb 24, 1970 / Feb 25, 1970
DECIDED: May 18, 1970
Facts of the case
Media for Greenbelt Cooperative Publishing Assn., Inc. v. BreslerAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 24, 1970 (Part 1) in Greenbelt Cooperative Publishing Assn., Inc. v. Bresler
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 25, 1970 (Part 2) in Greenbelt Cooperative Publishing Assn., Inc. v. Bresler
Warren E. Burger:
Greenbelt Cooperative Publishing against Bresler.
Mr. Chasanow, you may proceed whenever you're ready.
Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.
The petitioners in this case contend that the evidence is constitutionally insufficient to support the judgment and as a basis for that contention, they refer to three of the 45 exhibits which were introduced by the respondent which the trial court instructed the jury it was to consider and which it did in fact consider.
Now, some of those exhibits are contained in the printed record, others which are not as important as the major exhibits are in the transcript.
But the Court of Appeals specifically made mention of the fact that in addition to the publications that Mr. Bresler had committed blackmail, there were publications that he had engaged in an unethical trade, had been guilty of skullduggery, had had legal proceedings started against him for failure to make construction, corrections in accordance with county standards.
These allegations were injurious to Mr. Bresler and his business as a contractor and were libelous per se.
The Court had also previously referred in its opinion to another article which was published prior to the three foregoing articles.
On April 22, 1965, before the blackmail articles and before Mr. Bresler became a candidate for comptroller and that was headlined, City Battles Bresler on Two Fronts.
There was a sub caption court suit, it was written by petitioner Skolnick and it falsely alleged that the city and Bresler will also be at odds this week when the suit filed by the city against Ivy Homes, Inc. and Boxwood Village Inc. comes before the Circuit Court.
John M. Harlan II:
Do you think the disparities are characterized [Inaudible] rather than that the Court of Appeals to think that Bresler [Inaudible] charged with the blackmail charge?
No, Your Honor, we do agree --
John M. Harlan II:
The evidence is all the way through it with some of these other matters because as I read the opinion, the essence of it was the blackmail charge?
We do not dispute the fact that this was the principle charge but I'd like to point out that in the second blackmail article for example, there was the word skullduggery and when the -- Mr. Skolnick was asked on the stand about the word skullduggery, he said, this is the word that the reporter used in the article.
When the reporter testified for the petitioners, she said, I did not use that word, that was inserted and as frequently happens.
Now this was a change and this was what the Court of Appeals also said was intended to impute dishonesty on the part of Bresler.
Byron R. White:
What did the trial court refer to in instructions to the jury?
The trial court specifically said of course that the jury should consider all of the articles in evidence and also instructed the jury that it was to consider the entire context.
Now, I emphasize that because one of their principle arguments says that the word blackmail was taken out of context and it didn't mean what it said.
Well, first, they had taken it out of context but publishing it as a caption in the first article.
Secondly, the reporters both said that they had not published all of their notes concerning the meeting but that they had used the word blackmail.
The second reporter, the reporter who wrote the second article said, I selected out the word blackmail to show it was Mr. Herling's word.
But she said, I didn't use all my notes and when I asked her why she selected out the word, she said, well, it had been used, the word the week before and I felt it was proper to use it again in the article.
The Court of Appeals makes one other important point and that is that these people --
Byron R. White:
But I --
I'm sorry sir.
Did the Trial Court refer specifically to some document?